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As can be seen in the picture, almost all countries in North and South America (excluding island countries) unconditionally offer citizenship to anyone born in their territory. At the same time, almost all countries elsewhere don't do so. So, what makes North and South America special?

  • 10
    In short: They're the "new world" Even Pakistan counts as new world. Rest of the world is "old world".
    – whoisit
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 14:45
  • 14
    It might be worth noting that the US inherited the principle of jus soli from English law (even if it wasn't fully implemented until the 14th amendment nearly a century after its founding), but the UK has changed that aspect of its nationality law relatively recently while the US hasn't.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 17:55
  • 7
    Almost all the countries in blue are “nations of immigrants”, where the number of citizens whose ancestors a few centuries back were also citizens is essentially zero, or liberal Western European countries, influencing and influenced by the US example. I would be very curious what led Chad, Iran, and Tanzania to be exceptions in one direction and Colombia in the other. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 16:56
  • I'm not sure what's happened to the image of the legend, but the bottom 2 colours have gone missing
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 8:24

4 Answers 4


The countries in the Americas were founded by colonial settlers declaring independence from their corresponding colonial power, predominately at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. To distinguish an American from a British person in 1777, ancestry is not that helpful. Place of birth, much more so. In the former Spanish colonies, this is compounded by a social system that gave preference to recent immigrants over locally-born descendants of Spaniards.

Other settler-colonies, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, still have mixed-forms. What sets them apart from most nations in the Americas is timing and method of gaining independence.

  • 3
    What sets the Americas apart is slavery, see @ohwilleke's answer. When you abolish slavery, how do you codify citizenship to people not citizens before practically? These other nations, while colonial, did not have slavery as a part of the question of citizenship.
    – Krupip
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 18:32
  • 2
    @Krupip: I suppose you could award citizenship to the ex slaves as a form of justice for the institution.
    – Joshua
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 20:52
  • 1
    @Joshua: Yes, it would have been possible to grant citizenship to existing ex-slaves (and their descendants) without adopting unrestricted jus soli.
    – dan04
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 23:31
  • @Krupip The history of slavery in the Americas is far from homogeneous. There are some countries in South America where slavery was relatively rare - in particular around the Southern Cone (Chile Argentina, Uruguay).
    – stuart10
    Commented Oct 13, 2022 at 7:50

The U.S. did this in the 14th Amendment as a way to assure full rights to former slaves. The rest of the Americas, which based their constitutions heavily on the example of the United States, copied this innovation.

  • 7
    It was hardly an innovation. If you look at the debates you will see that it was explicitly modeled on the principles governing the status of English and later British subjects. The innovation of the 14th amendment was to specify explicitly that it applied to "all persons," not to the introduction of jus soli itself (and it's not clear to me to what extent people of other races or "conditions of servitude" were excluded from being British subjects or whether they were denied access to the justice system or other civil rights through other means).
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 22:00
  • @phoog they had access to the justice system, at least in theory: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somerset_v_Stewart. But I'm not aware of many such cases, and Somerset v. Stewart didn't confer citizenship and was brought by Stewart (and probably only went to law because of Somerset's supporters).
    – 2e0byo
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 15:24
  • @2e0byo but then there's Calvin's Case, which established that anyone born in the any of the king's realms is entitled to the rights of an English subject ... unless the person is an infidel, which was subsequently used to justify unjust treatment of the indigenous people of North America.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 17:15
  • @phoog indeed, that's evidence (which doesn't surprise, but which i didn't know) for exclusion from jus soli. However Somerset wasn't thrown out for standing (although as I said in practice I think that was likely down to his supporters). I wonder how many more such cases there were, if any?
    – 2e0byo
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 22:26

In American countries, immigrant populations have conquered native populations. The nations they formed made the assimilation of second-generation immigrants routine.

By contrast the European realization that they are a destination for immigration, not emigration, is relatively recent.


Cynical answer? It's to justify the suppression of native peoples by immigrant cultures and their largely European ruling classes. If they establish a right to residence based on ancestry, then they're giving native people rights senior to their own. And what self-respecting colonialist would ever do such a thing? Instead, you establish rights that favour your own interests at the expense of others'. And now that the native peoples are outnumbered by the immigrants and their descendants, you can further suppress native interests based on majority rule.

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